Four Madison chefs and one baker are inching closer to a top national honor in the culinary arts. That’s after the prestigious James Beard Awards announced a list of semifinalists yesterday.
Three individuals received nominations in the “Best Chef: Midwest” category: Itaru Nagano and Andrew Kroeger of Monroe Street’s classic cuisine restaurant Fairchild, and Francesco Mangano of downtown Madison Italian restaurant Osteria Papavero.
Chef Nagano says he wasn’t anticipating his selection and discovered he was nominated when casually checking his email. Nagano and Kroeger opened Fairchild just two weeks before pandemic lockdown in March of 2020, and quickly had to lay off their staff after the pandemic decimated the local restaurant industry.
Chef Mangano, of Osteria Papavero, says he faced similar challenges due to the outbreak of COVID-19.
“It wasn’t fun to be constantly opening and closing, re-opening and re-closing. We had very little way to use our patio. It was a struggle for about a year and a half,” says Mangano.
Both chefs point to strong cultural ties as their motivation to take up culinary work. Nagano started out when he was 18, in order to re-learn how to speak Japanese.
“I ended up liking cooking a lot, so I ended up sticking with it for a long time,” he adds.
For Mangano, growing up in Italy, cooking was a family affair.
“I grew up in a family of people that eat. I don’t necessarily like the word ‘gourmet’ or ‘foodie,’ but people that like to eat, people who travel. You know, cook at home, but also go to restaurants and find the new hole-in-the-wall.”
These two chefs exemplify the power of community support, as they managed to survive trying economic times and eventually thrive.
“It’s great to have a core of loyal customers you see coming again and again. This is not a destination restaurant, we don’t have people coming once a year; I think our price point to is a level where people can come even sometimes once a week,” says Mangano.
Other Madison semifinalists include Chef Jamie Hoang of Ahan, an Asian-inspired restaurant on Winnebago Street, who was picked by the Beard Awards as one of the nation’s “Emerging Chefs. And baker Andrew Hutchison of Madison Sourdough, a from-scratch bakery on Willy Street, was picked as one of the nation’s “Outstanding Pastry Chefs or Bakers,” a newly-combined category.
Meanwhile, other chefs and restaurants across Wisconsin, from Milwaukee to Ellison Bay, have been shortlisted by the James Beard Awards. In Milwaukee, Dan Jacobs and Dan Van Rite of EsterEv, and Gregory León of Amilinda, were also named as semifinalists for Best Chef in the Midwest. Also in Milwaukee, Amy and Jason Kerstein, Joe Muench, and Dan Snider, of Black Shoe Hospitality are semifinalists in the Outstanding Restaurateur category, while Lupi & Iris is a semifinalist for Best New Restaurant. Wickman House in Ellison Bay is a contender for Outstanding Restaurant.
The awards are named in honor of James Beard, the late food writer, teacher, and cookbook author, and are now in their 32nd year. Criteria for the awards include – of course – excellence in cuisine, along with broader goals such as a strong emphasis on engagement with the community and a sustainable work culture.
The semifinalists face stiff competition from chefs, bakers and others from around the U.S. A list of finalists is expected to be announced in March, with final award winners announced on June 5 at a ceremony in Chicago.
Other notable chefs in Madison have won James Beard Awards in past years. Tory Miller of Madison’s L’Etoile won the Best Regional Chef Award in 2012, and Odessa Piper of L’Etoile won the same award in 2001.
Image courtesy James Beard Awards.